I recently joined a Facebook group called Her Money by Jean Chatzky. Once I settled in, I asked the group my favorite question: What financial decision would you have made differently if you knew then what you know now? I got 31 comments — and the majority of them were about student loans.

Student Loans

  • “Had I known at 22 what I know now, I never would’ve gone to grad school.”
  • “Taking out $50,000 in student debt loans for college and graduate school. Everybody kept saying it was ‘good debt.’ It doesn’t feel that way, still paying on it on a 25-year plan.”
  • “I wish I would’ve taken the available subsidized loans starting my first year of college instead of using up all the cash saved for me. I ended up needing to take $20,000 in private loans the last two years. I could’ve saved so much in interest.”
  • “Not refinancing my student loans early enough. I struggled with quarterly interest rate hikes on private loans I took out, very frustrating. I refinanced five years later saving 2-4% in interest, and shortening my pay back timeline. I don’t regret where I went to college, just the loan terms.”
  • “I guess I’m in a minority, but I think the best financial decision I ever made was take out loans for grad school, because of things I’d heard, like folks are mentioning here, I almost passed up the opportunity for grad school due to the high cost.”

One way to avoid an extended purgatory in the land of student loan debt is to borrow as little as possible. If that means going to a state school — UCONN and SUNY are no slouches — then you or your kid should seriously consider it.

Daily Money Management

  • “When I was in my 20s I wasn’t thinking about money.”
  • “I wish I had managed my money better. I have now learned that if I see something I like, I wait a couple of days before buying it just to see if it’s a need or a want. Usually I don’t buy it.”

Financial Planning

  • “Wish I had worked with a financial planner while in the midst of my divorce. I didn’t know about fee-only planners at the time, so didn’t realize there was a way for me to get advice without having so much in assets. I really could’ve used some guidance during that transition.”
  • “I had the option to save in a 401K at my first job out of college. I opted out and used the money to travel instead. Oopsie.”

Think of getting your first financial planner as your first step into the deep end of the pool of life, even if you’re so broke you can’t afford a bathing suit. As one of the commenters mentioned, there is fee-only planning available if you don’t have much in assets. Other planners may see potential in you and take you on for that reason. Always, always take advantage of any matching funds offered by your employer, because that’s free money.

What’s My Story?

Even in the 33 years I’ve been alive (maybe not the only 33 years), I have made my share of financial mistakes — mostly with the help of a true expert in financial chaos. By the end of our marriage, we had emptied our 401Ks, with a substantial percentage getting sliced off the top in fees. When I became single again, I made a vow to fix my credit and provide for my retirement. As it turns out, I’ll have to work until I’m 157…but who’s counting?